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Chasing Frida in Mexico City

A couple of years ago the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City opened a major exhibition of Frida Kahlo’s works, photographs, and personal letters to celebrate her 100th birthday. Hordes of people lined up outside the building, waiting more than an hour to see Kahlo’s works, which were gathered together in Mexican territory for the first time. After three months, official numbers registered 363,000 visitors, which made the promoters and curators proud. Proud of having brought such an attractive exhibit to Mexican audiences, both experts and fans, as well as curious individuals willing to know the life and work of Frida Kahlo.

Far from trying to explain the fridomania, there is no wonder that the chilangos who went to the exhibit wanted to know why this woman is so fascinanting. As ironic as it sounds, Kahlo’s presence is all over Mexico City, but her work is hard to reach here. Those who want to look at a real Kahlo’s painting have to travel to Austin, New York, or San Francisco, chasing private collections. As far as I know, one of the most important Kahlo’s paintings that remains in Mexico City is “Dos Fridas” (Two Fridas) at the Museum of Modern Art, near Chapultepec.

Yet, Mexico is still the Mecca of Frida’s fans who want to explore the same scenarios where she lived, suffered the consequences of a terrible accident, and enjoyed all the lovers that legend has attributed to her, including Diego Rivera, Leon Trotsky, and an alleged list of women. Somehow, Frida’s life and whereabouts allow her fans to dream about a woman who represent some kind of free spirit, sexual liberation, and strength against adversities–as well as to travel through an old Mexico City that doesn’t exist anymore.

Frida was lucky enough to grow up in Coyoacán, a little town that was still outside of urbanized Mexico City back in 1907 when she was born. The neighborhood is now part of the city but has been able to keep some of its cozy cobbled streets that attract hipsters, bohemians and students to its cafes, bars, and stores. Her childhood home, the Casa Azul, is in this area, the official museum and worship place of Frida’s life where you can take a peek into her private life (as private as a museum can be). After that, if you want to follow the same thread, you can take a cab or a pesero to reach the Anahuacalli Museum, Diego Rivera’s collection of pre-Hispanic art. (Your ticket from the Casa Azul also grants admission to Anahuacalli for one month.)

Frida studied at San Ildefonso, a beautiful building right in front of the Templo Mayor in the Centro Histórico. This is where Frida and Diego met when she was a 19 year-old student and he already was a famous painter, notorious for his political opinions and affection for Russia and the Communists. During this period, the Centro Histórico was a campus where young students crowded into cheap restaurants, used-book stores, and last but not least, cantinas.

Traces of Frida can also be found near Xochimilco, at the Dolores Olmedo Museum which is a gorgeous house worth to see just because of its beautiful gardens where peacocks and xoloscuincle dogs (Fridas’s favorite dog–with no hair at all) hang out with visitors. Olmedo was Rivera’s long-time lover and became later the administrator of Frida and Rivera’s art. Several of Frida’s paintings, such as The Broken Column, are part of the permanent collection, but they are often on display at exhibitions around the world, so it’s a good idea to call and check the status of specific works you are trying to see.

Right after the Frida Kahlo anniversary exhibit, the museum tried to repeat the success with a collection of Diego Rivera’s work. This time neither the press nor visitors rushed to the museum. Frida proved to have more fans and worshipers maybe due to the legend and mystery that still surrounds her as an interesting character to be explored. Maybe, deep in the ground, Rivera’s extremely high ego hurt a little.

Museo Frida Kahlo: Casa Azul; Londres 247, Col. del Carmen, Coyoacán; Phone: 5554 5999; Open Tuesday -Sunday, 10-6; Admission: 55 pesos

Museo Dolores Olmedo; Av. México 5843, Col. La Noria, Xochimilco; Tues-Sun 10am-6pm

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